It (almost) never fails. Whenever I'm having a session with a married couple, either the husband or wife (usually the husband) says something along the lines of, "What's the bottom line thing that we can learn to make our marriage better?" Usually what this boils down to is, "Is there some sort of trick that you can teach us so that my partner will quit hounding me about counseling and I don't have to sit through a ton of these hour-long chat sessions?"
While it's unfortunate that a lot of couples don't seek out a couch/counselor/therapist until their marriage house has about burned to the ground (which means by then, there is absolutely no quick fix, by the way), if you are married and you're looking for a proactive hack that can save you and your beloved a lot of unnecessary irritation, I've got one for you. It's called psychological flexibility and it's a real lifesaver if you want to keep your relationship on track.
What Does It Mean to Be a Flexible Person?
Anyone who is single and reading this, let me tell you something that will save you a lot of unnecessary drama when it comes to long-term relationships—if you are an inflexible individual, you don't need to be in one. While a very simple definition of flexible is to bend without breaking, when it comes to dealing with other folks—folks who are flawed and are going to disappoint you, just as you do them sometimes—another word to keep in mind is "adaptable".
A flexible person is able to adapt to different circumstances and situations. When I think of all of this, there's a Scripture that comes to mind (more on that in a bit) and also a Bruce Lee quote. He once said, "Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend." Water? It's flexible. It definitely knows how to adapt as well.
OK, so what are some of the signs that a person is flexible?
- They can cope well when things shift or change.
- They aren't rigid or stubborn.
- They are quick thinkers and solutions-oriented.
- They aren't hypersensitive and don't get triggered easily.
- They're emotionally intelligent.
- They have a good sense of self-worth.
- They can see the humor in themselves, others and situations.
- They apply creative approaches to matters.
- They tend to live in the moment.
- THEY CAN'T LET GO OF STUFF.
What Is Psychological Flexibility and How Does It Come into Play?
OK, so with some of what it means to be a flexible individual in mind, let's look at what psychological flexibility is. At the end of the day, probably the most simplified way to explain it is, it's when you are so self-aware that when an unpleasant feeling transpires, rather than lashing out or even suppressing your emotions, you get into the moment to really process what's happening, all the while accepting that 1) good and bad times happen to everyone; 2) there is probably a lesson that can be learned that you're open to; 3) you are willing to let the feeling pass, and 4) you won't let it ultimately deter you from achieving the goals that you've already set. I know, right? That is a tall AF order; especially when you're trying to make life happen with another individual who may not be the most flexible person on the planet. Still, just think about how freeing it is to handle your world when you're in this kind of head and heart space.
Here's an example of how it all works. Say that your husband invited your mother-in-law over for dinner without running it by you first. Since she's already not your most favorite person on the planet, not only do you feel like he didn't respect your feelings by asking you ahead of time but he also kind of took a dismissive approach to the fact that dealing with this mother is challenging, even on a good day. Where psychological flexibility comes in is, instead of flying off of the handle or doing that ever-so-annoying (to me) passive aggressive, "Fine. It's fine", only to half-speak and make everyone uncomfortable once your mother-in-law does arrive, you allow yourself to feel what you feel, you try and figure out what the universe wants to teach you in the moment and you don't let the matter get so big that it ultimately puts a wedge between you and your man.
Taking this approach makes it easier to walk away, soak in the tub and then come back and say, "Babe, I love you and I know you love your mom. But for things to run smoothly when she comes to visit, I've got to feel like you care enough about my feelings and boundaries that you would run invites past me first. It helps me to process everything, to plan around a time when I know I can handle it and that keeps everyone feeling more comfortable in the long run." See how dope psychological flexibility is?
Psychological flexibility helps you to be less negative.
Psychological flexibility helps you to adapt to your surroundings better.
Psychological flexibility helps you to see the bigger picture.
5 Tips for Being More (Psychologically) Flexible in Your Marriage
OK, so remember how I said earlier that when I think of what it means to be flexible, a Scripture oftentimes comes to mind? I Corinthians 13:4 starts off by telling us that "love is patient". It can't be said enough that being patient isn't just about knowing how to wait well (although that's quite the feat, if you can pull it off); being patient is also about "bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, delay, hardship, pain, etc., with fortitude and calm and without complaint, anger, or the like." Again, singles, if you suck at being patient, marriage isn't for you. Not right now, anyway. If you're married and reading this, best-selling author Tony Robbins once said, "Stay committed to your decisions but flexible in your approach." Honor your vows to remain in your marriage yet be flexible when it comes to the day to day of being married. This includes know how to handle provocation, annoyances and hardships with the mindset of flowing like water—of embracing psychological flexibility.
So now that there is (hopefully) a better understanding of what psychological flexibility is, perhaps you are wondering about some of the things you can do to be more flexible in your marital union. Here are a few that immediately come to mind.
1. Accept that your partner is not you.
This alone is a total game-changer because far too many people spend (or is it waste?) precious time trying to turn their spouse into another version of them (which is pretty arrogant when you think about it) rather than embrace that the differences are what can help them to learn and evolve more as an individual. (Hmph. Talk about really applying psychological flexibility, chile.)
2. Don't try and change what is unchangeable.
You might wish that your husband was more outgoing. Or wasn't so close to his mama. Or cleaned the dishes better. While your influence can (and should) play a role in improving your partner in some ways, first, humility teaches that certain things aren't right or wrong just because you aren't that way. Second, psychological flexibility is also about learning how to not sweat the small stuff and not use blood, sweat and tears to try and change…what probably won't.
3. Deal with matters as they come.
If there is one thing that pretty much every husband has told me drives them absolutely up the wall when it comes to dealing with their wife, it's that they have a tendency to blow things out of proportion by making mountains out of molehills. Like, if a bill is due and money is tight, all of a sudden the issue is about what's gonna happen three months from now if more money doesn't come in. Tomorrow is not promised. Even the Good Book tells us not to be consumed with it (Matthew 6:34). The bill is the issue today. Deal with what needs to be done in the moment. Tomorrow will come…later.
Whew. It always amazes me how the folks who don't think others deserve forgiveness typically believe that this resolve applies to everyone but them. One of the best ways to be a flexible person is to forgive others because it teaches you how to let ish go. Emotionally intelligent folks already know that they are gonna not rise to the occasion all of the time. That mindset helps them to be willing to forgive others, so that bitterness and resentment don't set it. In either direction.
5. Be open to growth.
One of the things that I respect the most about marriages that see well past a decade is, since people grow and change over time, it's remarkable that two individuals are able to do that in the same household while sharing the same bed. Beautiful. Flexibility is all about moving with the way things evolve. Accepting that you are gonna change, many times, and that your partner is going to do the same, with the commitment you made, you are still willing to support one another, profoundly so, throughout those changes. That is psychological flexibility 2.0 style. And it's a marital superpower unlike no other. Apply it. Watch how your marriage soars once you do.
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